Work: Symphony no 2 in C minor "Resurrection"
About This Work
Mahler's Second Symphony represents a step in the direction of expansion from the First. Its enormous resources -- huge orchestra, soprano and alto soloists, chorus, and organ, as well as its epic theme of death and resurrection -- represent Mahler
at the pinnacle of his earlier heaven-storming style and aesthetic. The transformative theme employed here will eventually become the common thread of every subsequent symphony. It is quintessential Mahler and covers a vast panorama of style and emotion, culminating in one of the most breathtaking and moving conclusions in the symphonic repertory.
Just like the First Symphony, Mahler's Second began life as a single-movement tone poem, Todtenfeier (Funeral Rites). At one time Mahler commented that this tone poem represented the funeral of the hero from his First Symphony. Sometime in 1893 Mahler decided to expand Todtenfeier into a symphony. He began by composing an Andante and expanding his recently composed Wunderhorn song Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt (Antony of Padua's Sermon to the Fish) into an orchestral scherzo. At this point Mahler struggled to find a sufficiently powerful ending to balance the already massive symphonic torso. He solved the problem when he discovered Klopstock's chorale Resurrection. Having created the progression from the death of Todtenfeier, now the first movement, to the resurrection theme of the Finale, Mahler bridged the gap with another Wunderhorn song, "Urlicht" (Primeval Light). He used this song entire, with voice, and excluded it from the published collection of Wunderhorn Songs. The structure was now complete. It is the crowning glory of Mahler's earlier works and his most popular composition.
Allegro maestoso. This massive and unusual movement is in a hugely expanded sonata form. The sharp contrast between the funeral march material and the hymn-like lyrical second subject set the theme for the entire symphony.
Andante moderato. The dance structure alternates a folk-like and melodic Ländler with two more agitated Trios. The Ländler, according to Mahler's original program, represents the "image of a long-dead hour of Happiness," while the Trios recall death.
In ruhig fliessender Bewegung (Quietly Flowing). This movement carries the same theme as the song from which it is derived -- the futility and pointlessness of life. The St. Antony song pervades the main sections, while the Trios represent, respectively false joy and sentiment.
"Urlicht." In a subtle breakthrough, Mahler does a complete spiritual reversal on the preceding sardonic Scherzo. "Urlicht" is a rapt hymn of deep beauty, powerful enough in its brevity to change the bitter mood of what has come so far to the latent hope of what will follow.
Im Tempo des Scherzos. Wild herausfahrend. (In Scherzo tempo, Wildly driven). The opening is a "cry of disgust" for the plight of humankind, but shortly gives way to a spacious and haunting evocation of nature and the last trumpet awakening the dead. This is expanded into a typical march that culminates in a return to the "cry of disgust," before finally giving way permanently to the "Resurrection" chorale and the triumphant conclusion.
-- Steven Coburn
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